While the profession is growing in the United States, some in the UK are asking the question
By Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service (www.asisstnews.net).
LONDON, UK (ANS — April 14, 2017) — In the United States healthcare chaplaincy is a burgeoning profession that provides a necessary and helpful service in a time of need, but many in the United Kingdom are asking if their presence were eliminated, would it matter that much?
Rin Hamburgh writes in The Guardian newspaper (www.theguardian.com ) that Kole Morgan was on holiday in Plymouth when she was involved in a serious car accident.
Hamburgh says the 47-year-old gardener from Bristol sustained extensive injuries including multiple fractures to her back, which kept her in intensive care for 48 hours and in hospital for a fortnight. The other driver, who was found to have caused the accident, died.
Hamburgh writes, “Away from her family, in pain and feeling alone, (Morgan) struggled to process all that had happened. When a nurse suggested she ask the chaplain to visit, Morgan agreed, despite not having any religious affiliations of her own.”
“The chaplain came within half an hour and listened to me while I thought out loud about what had happened,” says Morgan. “She didn’t suggest I pray, there was no pushing religion on me, it was just somebody really gentle and kind to talk to when I was having a really hideous time.”
Morgan described the care she received as “invaluable,” but Hamburgh asks, in these times of austerity, are chaplains really worth the expense to the National Health Service and by extension the taxpayer? NHS funded chaplains cost an estimated £25m (US$32m) annually, with 916 full and part time posts in 2015.
Staff nurse Jodi Norman, who works part time at Southmead hospital in Bristol, believes the chaplaincy plays an important role, not just for patients but also for staff. “When I first started, they would always come by on a weekend and say, ‘If you need a chat, we’re here’ and ‘Have a good shift’ – it made you feel someone’s thinking about us.”
Norman says she hasn’t seen them around as much in recent years, and patients and their families don’t seem to use the service as often as they used to. “When I’ve had patients pass away I’ve offered the service of a chaplain,” she says. “Most people decline. It’s so sad. Faith is becoming less talked about. Honestly I think that the younger generation of nurses and medics wouldn’t even consider the service or how to access it.”
Hamburgh writes that one way that the chaplaincy has tried to engage with people more is by increasing the diversity of its faith offerings to reflect the communities it serves.
The lead chaplain at Tameside in Manchester is a Muslim, for example, while Free Church ministers hold lead posts in Leicester and Cambridge, and at King’s College hospital in London the lead is an Anglican priest.
Imam Yunus Dudhwala has worked within the chaplaincy service for 19 years and is currently head of chaplaincy and bereavement services at Barts health NHS trust. He was the one of the first Muslims to join the service and the first non-Christian appointed as a chaplaincy head.
“It’s very difficult to explain the value of the chaplaincy service,” he says. “It’s about compassion, it’s about support, it’s about kindness. It’s difficult to measure because it’s not very tangible.”
But , Hamburgh says, with almost half the population of England and Wales identifying as having no religion, there are those who feel the NHS shouldn’t be funding a religious offering of any kind, such as the National Secular Society. The non-party-political organization maintains that no service should be provided within an exclusive religious context and that religious and pastoral care should remain distinct.
“For the minority of patients who would desire specifically religious care, this can continue to be provided by religious groups – possibly through a charitable trust,” says campaigns director Stephen Evans. “But these groups should have no part in deciding who can be employed as chaplains.”
Hamburgh cites Mark Burleigh, head of chaplaincy and bereavement services at Leicester’s hospitals and president of the College of Health Care Chaplains, who disagrees. He believes putting chaplains on the payroll has a number of key benefits. Not only does it ensure that they are accountable to the same policies as other NHS staff – for example, with a restriction on converting people to their faith or challenging them over lifestyle choices – it also ensures a higher quality of candidate.
“Because the chaplains are working in the hospital day in and day out, they know how the hospitals work, they know how to support people in their darkest hour,” Burleigh explains. “For local clergy, a baby death is something they might not have to face regularly, whereas for a professional hospital chaplain that’s something they have a lot of experience in dealing with.”
Finally, Burleigh argues, it makes the service more reliable. “If a chaplain is paid to be on call, if he or she is asked to come in, they will do so. To rely on ringing up people in the local community at 1am because a baby has died, you can’t necessarily guarantee they will come out.”
Hamburgh says that if the chaplaincy service were dismissed altogether, there are those who would definitely miss out. She says that, for Morgan, the fact that the chaplain who visited her in hospital was a religious representative was important.
“I couldn’t tell you why I found it comforting that she was a vicar, but I did,” Morgan said. “If it had been an imam or a rabbi, I would have possibly felt the same way. It was a sense of comfort and of reassurance.
Morgan concluded: “I haven’t been to church since I got out of hospital, I haven’t followed up on religion, but I did find it comforting when I was going through a particularly unpleasant time. Chaplains are invaluable. I would hate to see them got rid of.”
Photo captions: 1) Open Bible, open Heart. (Photo:Alamy). 2) Michael Ireland
About the Writer: Michael Ireland is a volunteer internet journalist serving as Chief Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as an Ordained Minister who has served with ASSIST Ministries and written for ANS since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. Please consider helping Michael cover his expenses in bringing news of the Persecuted Church, by logging-on to: https://actintl.givingfuel.com/ireland-michael
** You may republish this or any of our ANS stories with attribution to the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net). Please also tell your friends and colleagues that they can get a complimentary subscription to ANS by going to the website and signing up there.